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Wales merely need tuneup for Six Nations in Wayne's world

LONDON (AP) — Warren Gatland's parting words as Wales coach were a wish that the team's considerable achievements on his watch weren't wasted. New coach Wayne Pivac is trying to grant Gatland his wish.

Approaching his first Six Nations, which starts next week, Pivac said on Wednesday at the tournament launch in London that the defending champion Welsh have needed a mere tuneup rather than an engine change.

"The boys have been very successful over a long period of time," Pivac said. "We're having the attitude of throwing a question at everything we do. Do we think its going to add value? If something's not broken let's not waste too much time trying to fix it.

"The expectation is we're going to move a bit more ball but that'll take a bit of time. We're going to evolve our attack. It took a bit of time at Scarlets to change the way we played, to hone skillsets and get everyone involved. We'll be chipping away at it."

Pivac said he wasn't daunted at following his fellow New Zealander Gatland, Wales' longest serving and most successful coach. But then Gatland and the Welsh Rugby Union gave Pivac a smooth transition. Pivac was appointed way back in July 2018. He finished with the Scarlets a year later, and was in the loop as Gatland prepared Wales for the Rugby World Cup in Japan last October.

Pivac was even given a game to coach -- unlike the other five Six Nations coaches -- last November when his first Wales selection beat the Gatland-led Barbarians 43-33. "At the moment I'm just finding it a pleasure to come to work," Pivac said. "A change sometimes is a good thing, and everybody is looking forward to the new era."

England coach Eddie Jones couldn't let that go. The serial stirrer warned Pivac he will be under pressure to meet expectations from the fickle Welsh. Even Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones was moved to say they should expect a bumpy road under the new regime.

Pivac noted history was against Wales winning the championship with road games against England and Ireland. Wales has pulled off that feat only once since the championship expanded in 2000 -- in 2008, Gatland's first season. Pivac said it was ideal to start with a home game, against Italy on Feb. 1, but fullback Liam Williams, nursing an ankle injury since the World Cup, won't be available until the second-round match against Ireland.

New Ireland captain Jonathan Sexton, who has been recovering from torn right knee ligaments for more than six weeks, was sure he will be available for their opening home match against Scotland. Sexton was a mildly surprising choice as skipper at age 34 by new coach Andy Farrell for a new World Cup cycle, but Sexton has proved his leadership credentials at Leinster, and Farrell said he has no agenda for his best player.

“I want to try and get better at being captain, along with every part of my game, until I retire,” Sexton said. “I want to play for as long as I can. If I continue to produce the goods and keep my body good and mind good, I don't see why not. Other people have a lot to do with that, but if people I respect say I've had enough, I'll go kicking and screaming.”

“Yeah, definitely,” Farrell added with a laugh. Like Pivac, Farrell was also chosen early. Joe Schmidt's defense coach for more than three years, Farrell was named Schmidt's heir in November 2018. One of four new coaches along with France's Fabien Galthie and Italy's Franco Smith, Farrell said he did and didn't feel like a newcomer.

“I've been in professional sport for 28 years and I've been waiting for this day. But at the same time, I feel I've been here quite a while. I'm totally excited, proud to be sat here. That's the buzz that gets me out of bed, and the buzz has never been better.”

Farrell's son, Owen, the England captain, was one of the Saracens players ensnared in the club's financial doping scandal. Andy Farrell said as a father he was concerned for Owen's future, but believed the scandal will galvanize the England team. "Because that's how I would treat it," the former Britain rugby league captain said.

Owen said he didn't know how the team would react to the scandal because they had yet to gather for a training camp in Portugal. "We're very good at being honest and open about stuff and sorting out things if we need to. And we'll find out if we need to," Owen said.

England is the title favorite after reaching the World Cup final last November. “Feels like a long time ago,” Owen said. “We grew up a lot. We're looking forward to using that and kicking on.” They begin in France, where coach Galthie wants to make the public fall back in love with a French team he helped to win four championships as a scrumhalf. While France is enduring its longest title drought — nine championships -- since World War II, Galthie has picked an inexperienced squad with an eye on being primed for the Rugby World Cup that France will stage in 2023.

“Our ambition,” Galthie said, "is to make the French public want to support us, to come and fill up the Stade de France, and leave the game with passion.”

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